Title: To Catch a Thief - archived January 22, 2008
Author: Lacey McBain
Rating: PG-13
Summary: "If any of the forty-seven serving staff or the two dozen security personnel had been paying attention to something beyond the rattling of ice and the filling of champagne glasses, they might have heard the slightest thud, a sound clearly recognizable (to those in the know) as a medium-sized grappling hook lodging in the casement of the northern tower."
Warnings: Slash. Clark/Lex. Established relationship.
Parts: Complete
Feedback: Appreciated.
Timeline: Vaguely future fic and blatantly ignoring show canon after S2. More or less consistent with Shadows & Stone canon.
Notes: Written for Nuala Nightbloom for the SV Gang's "Get a Clue, Merry Sue" Christmas Exchange 2006. (Yes, that says 2006. Don't mock me!) So sorry it was late!!
Prompts: Ballroom, Mustard, Poison / Flask.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but if I did it would be Clark and Lex in the Study with a Rope. If you know what I mean.

To Catch a Thief
The moon was hanging in the sky over the Luthor mansion like a particularly large opal, full and shimmering with an unreal light. On the second floor, the ballroom was starting to fill with people, and through the windows one could glimpse the satin sheen of cocktail dresses and the understated elegance of tuxedos. If any of the forty-seven serving staff or the two dozen security personnel had been paying attention to something beyond the rattling of ice and the filling of champagne glasses, they might have heard the slightest thud, a sound clearly recognizable (to those in the know) as a medium-sized grappling hook lodging in the casement of the northern tower. They might even have glimpsed through the furthest ballroom window, a slender black-clad figure moving nimbly up a rope towards the third floor bedrooms.

However, no one was paying attention.


Clark stood in front of the open safe--Lex's private safe above the fireplace in their bedroom–and reached for the small black velvet box. It was about ten inches long; the kind of box that would hold a watch or a bracelet. Or a woman's necklace.

He closed his eyes and tried to push doubt from his mind. He and Lex had been together a long time now, and there had to be a reasonable explanation. Perhaps it was a piece of Lillian Luthor's jewelry Lex had kept separate from the collection on loan to The Granville Museum of Rocks, Gemstones, and Precious Metals. Of course, Clark had never seen the exhibit because of the high quantity of meteor rock, but he'd supported Lex's decision to house the jewelry there. It would be just like Lex to hang on to something for sentimental value and not bother to say anything, Clark told himself.

With growing apprehension and clumsy fingers, Clark opened the delicate clasp on the box. Nestled against a pillow of black satin, lay a necklace of white gold, set with shimmering opals. In the half-light of the study, the stones shone pink and mauve. The necklace was beautiful, and Clark was reasonably certain it was new. It didn't have the look of something worn or loved. There wasn't a fingerprint marring its surface anywhere.

Clark felt his breath catch in his throat. Why on earth would Lex have bought something like that? And more importantly, why was it stashed away in the safe where Clark never looked–except that tonight he'd wanted to wear his father's cufflinks, and when he couldn't find them in any of the usual places, he'd thought (naively, apparently) that maybe Lex had put them in the safe for him.

He heard Lex's footfall in the hallway and hurriedly closed the safe, swinging the painting back into place, and super-speeding onto the couch. He hoped Lex would assume the red tinge to his cheeks was from the blazing fire, and not from guilt. Clark wasn't used to hiding things from Lex anymore, and he didn't particularly like the feeling.

The bedroom door swung open, and Lex stepped into the room looking like he was born to wear a tuxedo. Clark's heart skipped a beat. Lex was sophisticated and suave, easily the sexiest man Clark knew. Not for the first time, he wondered if Lex had finally gotten bored with him. If he'd found someone else. Someone who had breasts and liked opals.

"Clark, what are you still doing up here?" Lex asked with a concerned smile. "The party's downstairs." Clark shrugged and moved towards his partner, cuffs hanging open awkwardly.

"My dad's cufflinks–"

"Right here." Lex was already opening a drawer and extracting the cufflinks from a royal blue box. He handed them to Clark, then surveyed him carefully. "Is something wrong?"

"No," Clark said, eyes cast down, fumbling with the cufflinks. Lex knew him entirely too well. "I just wanted a minute's peace before the socializing begins."

"It'll be fine. You're an old hand at this now," Lex murmured, reaching out to adjust Clark's bow tie. Clark remembered the first time Lex had done that for him—the disastrous prom when Smallville had been hit by twin tornadoes—and silently counted his blessings that he still had Lex in his life. It could've gone either way. He'd been so stupid back then.

"Clark?" Lex touched his face gently. "Are you sure nothing's wrong?"

Clark leaned into the touch and closed his eyes. "I'm fine." He pushed aside the worries he was having, the questions about the necklace in the safe. There had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation, and Lex would tell him when the time was right. Clark was certain of it. Well, almost certain.

"Why don't you go down and greet our guests?" Lex said, one hand gently nudging Clark in the direction of the door. "I'll be right behind you."

"What are you going to do?"

Lex gave a non-committal half-smile. "I want to make sure things in here are secure. Alarms set and such."

"It's our bedroom, Lex. Nobody's going to be up here." Clark searched Lex's face for some tell-tale sign of infidelity, some measure of guilt, but there was nothing.

"I know. But with so many people in and out of the mansion tonight, you can never be too careful. Go on. I'll join you in a minute."

Not being able to think of a reason to stay, Clark nodded and left the bedroom. Only after he was in the hall did he turn on his x-ray vision to see Lex checking the safe, admiring the necklace Clark had discovered earlier, and carefully returning it to its case. He watched Lex reset all the alarms before straightening his tie and turning out the lights in the bedroom. Clark sped down the stairs towards the ballroom, his heart beating loudly in his chest.

What was Lex up to? And why was he being so secretive about the necklace in the safe?


The black-clad figure balanced perfectly on the ledge outside Lex's bedroom, practicing the Tree pose while she waited for Lex and his tall, dark and handsome to finish their tender moment.

"Oh, please," she thought. "Spare me the melodrama."

She switched to Crane Pose while she watched Lex unlock the safe, not bothering to try to keep track of the numbers. There wasn't a safe she couldn't open–best ears in the business–and it really would've been too much like cheating if she'd paid closer attention. She liked a little bit of a challenge, after all.

From the corner of the window, she could see Lex in profile. He was as handsome as ever, she had to concede.

"You always did look good in a tux, Lex," she murmured softly, admiring the lean lines of his body as he closed the safe once more, resetting its alarms. "And out of it."

She waited until the lights dimmed and the door to the master suite closed, then forced herself to breathe deeply through another sixty count just to be sure there were no more forgotten cufflinks or safety checks.

"Soon, Lex," she thought flipping open the Prada leather bag slung across her shoulders. Her gloved hands extracted what appeared to be a cosmetic case of some kind, from which she pulled a set of lockpicks and a wire-cutter.

"I really love my job," she said softly to the night air as she snipped the first red wire around the window pane. "This is going to be so much fun."


"Just smile," Lex murmured in Clark's ear as he passed him a glass of champagne. "Circulate."

"You mean I can't just stand in the corner and hide?"

"I think Bruce beat you to it." Clark glanced towards the farthest corner of the room, near the balcony, where a dark-haired man in a dark suit was barely noticeable in the shadows.

Lex looked at Clark with tolerant affection. "Besides, contrary to what you think, Clark, you don't blend in with the wallpaper."

Clark snagged a crab puff off a circulating tray. "If I keep my mouth full, maybe I won't say anything stupid."

"Don't worry about it. Just avoid political commentary, religious debate, and all questions about LuthorCorp and you should be fine."

"Oh, is that all?"

"You'll be fine," Lex said again, kissing him quickly, and starting to slide into the crowd. "And if you really can't stand it anymore, I'm sure you can convince Bruce to create a memorable diversion."

Clark perked up at that, but Lex was already gone, swept away in a tide of black and white formal wear and the rustle of evening gowns.

"Fine, he says," Clark mumbled as he snagged a roll of proscuitto and melon. "We'll see about that."


The opals caught the firelight and Nuala couldn't help but smile. They were gorgeous, nestled in their black satin bed, and they would only be more beautiful draped against her skin. She loved opals. Her sources had definitely been right about the latest Luthor acquisition, and as always, she couldn't fault Lex on his taste. The necklace looked exquisite, and she had it on good authority that it would've sold for close to thirty thousand at a jeweler's. Not that Lex had gotten his that way. No, she'd heard from her source in Suicide Slums, who'd heard from that kid who was faster than lightning, who'd gotten it straight from the guy Lex blackmailed, that the necklace was insurance. For what, Nuala didn't know, but something that beautiful didn't deserve to be locked in a safe. She had a responsibility to show it off to the world.

With practiced ease, she slipped out of her black silk overalls, peeled off her gloves, and shook out her hair. From her bag, she withdrew a small slip of fabric and stepped into it, adjusting the shoulder straps so they showed off the curve of her shoulders, the lightly tanned skin of her throat.

The perfect backdrop for a set of perfect opals.

With a smile, Nuala gathered up her things, folded them neatly into her handbag, and slipped on her pumps. She freshened up her lipstick, gave her hair one last look, and then opened the door from Lex's bedroom and descended down the staircase to the ballroom.

Halfway down, the sound of a string quartet hit her. She handed her invitation to the attractive man at the door, and said, "Don't you just love parties?"


Clark smiled until his teeth hurt. He endured the gossipy whispers from the usual debutantes privately laying bets on how long he and Lex would last; he used only the slightest hint of super-speed to side-step the widowed dowagers who found his ass a too-tempting proposition; and
he was on his third glass of champagne when he caught sight of a striking young woman with strawberry-blonde hair cascading around her shoulders. She was wearing a low-cut black dress, exquisitely tailored, that clung in all the right places, and high heels that made her almost as tall as Oliver Queen, to whom she was talking. Around her neck lay a band of white gold, set with opals that gleamed pink and mauve in the light.

Clark let out a gasp. He turned to see if anyone else had noticed–if Lex had noticed–but the party was in full swing. Lex was on the far side of the room talking to LuthorCorp board members, and apparently oblivious to the theft of the necklace. With a muttered curse, Clark began to make his way across the room, figuring that at least now he'd find out the story behind that damn troublesome necklace.




Nuala glared at him as only she could, with a perfect smile that never faltered. Oliver didn't know whether to expect a laugh, a slap, or a glass of champagne down his pants. He'd had experience with all three.

"How charming, Oliver," Nuala said, taking a casual sip from her champagne glass and letting her eyes drop downward. Oliver took a pre-emptive step back. "You haven't changed a bit."

"Neither have you." Oliver sipped his drink. "I have to say, though, I'm surprised to see you here. You're about the last person I expected to show up on the guest list for a Luthor charity fund-raiser."

Nuala laughed, light and clear. "Don't be silly, Ollie. Guest list? Those are for ordinary folks."

Oliver nodded. "Well, that makes sense. You never did things the easy way, did you? Let me guess–Lex doesn't even know you're here, right?."

"Not yet, but he will," she said, perfectly-manicured fingers idly stroking the opal necklace she was wearing. "But tell me, who's the tall, dark and handsome Lex has set-up house with? He's new."

"Not that new. You've been out of the country a long time."

"Keeping tabs on me, Oliver? I'm flattered, but really there's not much to tell." Nuala waved a slim hand in the air as if her travels were nothing. "England was foggy, France was unbearably hot, and Monaco was truly a bore."

"Funny," Oliver said, leaning closer. "That's not what I heard."

"Really?" Wide-eyed, Nuala looked positively shocked. "Do tell, Oliver. You know I love a good bit of gossip."

"I heard the Victoria and Albert Museum lost a priceless silver tea service–"


"–Le Louvre mislaid one of Marie Antoinette's favourite necklaces–"

"Quel dommage," Nuala interjected in perfect French.

"–and Monaco's largest casino had an unfortunate run of bad luck. Apparently they misplaced a rather large sum of money from their locked state-of-the-art safe. Somewhere in the area of two hundred thousand."

"I heard it was closer to two-fifty, actually," Nuala said knowingly. "And the safe really wasn't that state-of-the-art. So I heard."

"Uh-huh. So you see why I might be concerned at your sudden appearance at one of Lex's parties. Uninvited."

"I had an invitation."

"You and I both know that doesn't mean you were invited."

Nuala practically purred. "I'm sure Lex would've been happy to invite me if he'd known I was back in the country. I just saved him the bother. He obviously has better things to do with his time than play ‘Where in the World is Nuala Nightbloom?' Besides, is there anything wrong with dropping by to see a few old friends? Several, in fact."

Oliver followed her gaze towards the darkest corner of the room. "Be careful, Nu. Some people don't place nice."

"I'm always careful, Ollie. If I didn't know better, I'd almost say you care.."

"I just like to know where my enemies are."

"Enemies?" Nuala laid a hand across her heart. "That's harsh, Oliver. One little incident–"

"Where I got shot in the chest with my own arrow!" Oliver whispered angrily.

"You left that crossbow lying about; it was fair game. And honestly, what did you expect me to do? You scared me half to death, swinging down from the ceiling of the New York library like that–"

"You were stealing the rare book display!"

"It was a library–I was borrowing!" she said loudly enough to draw the attention of the people nearby. She smiled politely and dropped her voice. "Besides, I wasn't trying to hurt you. I thought anyone running around at night in a green leather hoodie and codpiece should at least have the good sense to invest in some body armour underneath it all! God, if I hadn't shot you, the fashion police certainly would have!"

Oliver opened his mouth as if to speak, shook his head, and closed his mouth again. Nuala looked at him with a satisfied smirk. There really wasn't anything he could say when faced with the absolute truth of the matter.

"Now tell me about that long tall drink of water," Nuala suggested. Her gaze travelled across the room to where Lex's boyfriend seemed to be managing to blush, stammer, and drop mustard from a cocktail weiner onto his jacket all at the same time, much to the apparent delight of the small circle of women who were trying to assist him in preventing a stain.

"This one looks like a giant step-up from Lex's usual male companions," Nuala said, seeing a bottle of club soda come into play in the war against the mustard stain. The young man was beginning to look as if he should be auditioning for a wet t-shirt contest, but he was handling the attention with a rueful smile.

"I wouldn't recommend it, Nuala."

"Tall and dark without the brooding. I definitely approve." Two women were now attempting to wrestle the poor guy out of his jacket without appearing too anxious. They were failing miserably. "Seems like a pleasant young man."

"Trust me. Just stay clear of Lex and Clark," Oliver warned, clearly expecting his caution to be ignored.

"Clark." Nuala's voice rang with genuine delight. "How positively ... clarkish! Really, wherever did Lex find him?"

"I believe he hit him with his car," a female voice said from just behind Nuala's shoulder. She turned to see a buxom woman crammed into a sadly besequinned hooker-red evening gown. "Lois Lane," the woman said, thrusting her hand out and clearly expecting Nuala to shake it. Lois's grip was firm and calloused, and Nuala could feel the warning in it all the way up her arm.

"Charmed, Miss Lane." Nuala smiled at Oliver as she extracted her hand from Lois's grasp. "She's with you, I presume, Ollie?"

"Yes, she is," Lois answered, smiling right back, showing all her teeth. "Lois Lane. And you are?"

Oliver took over the introductions. "Lois, this is Nuala Nightbloom. She's an old friend of Lex's. She went to Excelsior's sister school–"

"Sister Saint Ignatius Loyola of the Sacred Heart's Academy for Wayward Girls," Nuala chimed in sincerely, cutting Oliver off.

"Really? With the Anne Klein dress and the Minolo blah-blah pumps, you don't look much like the parochial school type," Lois said, giving Nuala the once-over. "Wayward maybe, but–"

"Lois." Oliver could already see this wasn't going to end well.

"And I thought men in Kansas liked things organic, all-natural," Nuala returned with a pointed glance at Lois's ample bosom.

"Listen, sister–"

Oliver was already holding Lois by the arm as Nuala dipped her head politely, and neatly side-stepped Lois's clumsy swing. She slid easily into the flow of people moving through the ballroom.

"So nice to meet you, Miss Lane," she called over her shoulder. "Ollie."

"Stay out of trouble, Nu," she heard Oliver say over the incoherent sputtering of one Lois Lane.

"I always do." Nuala snagged a fresh glass of champagne from one of the circulating waiters, ignoring the angry voices she could hear from the corner she'd just left. She turned to the dark-haired woman standing silently beside her and said, "Great party, don't you think?"

"It is not New Year's in Versailles, but it will do."

"So, how do you know Lex?"

The woman turned slightly and raised an eyebrow. "I am Blandine. I am Lex's cousin on his mother's side. From France," she said, with a discernible French accent.

"Really? I couldn't tell."

Blandine looked pleased. "I am not surprised. You see, in my work it is necessary for me to be able to blend in wherever I go. I am proficient in fifteen languages, most of them dead."

"Were they dead before you got to them?" Nuala asked.

There was a moment of silence between the two women and then Blandine laughed, her blue eyes lighting up. "Ha! I could snap your bones like twigs, but I like you," she said. "So far, you amuse me."

"So far, so good then. You're Lex's cousin, you said?"

"Oui. This is my card." Blandine withdrew a black rectangle from some hidden pocket of her black pantsuit. In small white script was inscribed "Blandine" and an international phone number.

"Tres elegante."

"Le Cinq Bureau est toujours elegante."

"The Fifth Office? What happened to the other four?" Nuala asked conversationally.

"The first three were destroyed; I am not at liberty to discuss the details. The fourth one simply disappeared. Now there is the fifth."

"So, is that like–"

Blandine silenced her with a glance. "If I told you exactly what it is, then I would have to kill you."

Nuala was taken slightly aback, but Blandine didn't appear to be joking. "We wouldn't want that."

"Non. I promised Lex I would be vigilant, but I believe he would strenuously object to the sudden but entirely necessary silencing of one of his guests."

Nuala tucked the card swiftly into her bag letting it fall between her lockpicks and her favourite pen. Blandine's eyes enlivened with something akin to joy.

"I see you're using a Mont Blanc. Might I be so bold as to inquire if you are aware of the additional attachments?"

"You mean like extra ink cartridges?"

Blandine laughed, low and a little bit scary. "Non, I mean like extra bullets. Let me show you." She put her hand on Nuala's arm and waved for the waiter to bring another round of champagne.


"I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Luthor."

Lex turned towards the man who was typically handling the door at these functions. He took a sip of his champagne while he searched his memory for the name.

"Yes, Craig, what is it?"

"Well, I normally wouldn't bother you with something like this, but Lacey's in the kitchen mediating a crab puff crisis, and that's already after she diverted the fire department to the kitchen door rather than through the front of the mansion–"

Lex hid his smile behind the lip of his glass. He wouldn't want to be the chefs on the receiving end of Ms. McBain's "mediation." She ran a tight ship when she planned a party for him. Lex figured he didn't even have an inkling of the crises she averted with her clipboard, Swiss Army knife, and her sheaf of color-coordinated folders.

"–and an extra guest really isn't an issue except we've already had to redirect one sentient sea-green space-faring cephalopod–"

"Private Tentacle?" Lex asked with surprise, referring to one of the newer members of the Justice League.

"Oh, you know her? Well, she's really very striking with the varying shades of green and the flowing tentacles, and the Justice League Newcomers' Bash is in Metropolis tonight, but honestly, Smallville's not that close and for a super-hero her sense of direction is a little–"


"Yes. Anyway, we've got an extra guest, this one without tentacles. I mean, I didn't check-that would be highly inappropriate–and I suppose it's entirely possible given the propensity for strange things that happen around here that she could have her own private tentacle of sorts, but--"


"–it means she hasn't been cleared by security. Yes, she's talking to your cousin Blandine, so I figure that's pretty much as good as going through security, but–"

"Take a breath, Craig."

He paused for a short breath, then dove back in. "But although she had an invitation, she wasn't on the Master List–and you know how particular Lacey is about the lists–my God, that time she thought she'd lost the Master List, well, let's just say, I've never seen the Teamsters cry before."

"Craig! Focus. We've got an extra guest?"

"Oh, yes, but she had an invitation. Only the paper wasn't the thirty-two pound bond Lacey prefers and the gold edging was already flaking, which indicates a lesser quality than what we requested, and so–"

"Yes?" Lex had the impression he was talking to a wound up toy that was about to explode any moment.

"–either we have a serious problem with the paper supplier and the printers, or much less alarming, we've got one guest with a forgery."

Lex had only a moment to think about Craig's sense of priorities before he asked: "Is she an attractive strawberry blonde probably wearing a little black dress and a set of stunning opals?"

Craig opened his mouth and closed it again. He nodded briskly. "Yes. And Minolo Blanek pumps too, if I'm not mistaken."

Lex raised an eyebrow.

"I have a lot of female friends! And, oh my God, I just realized they're serving calamari at the Justice League party. I've got to talk to Lacey." Craig started to leave, then stopped. "So, you know our extra guest?"

"She's an old friend. I've been expecting her to show up."

"But she wasn't on the Master List," Craig said with dismay.

"An oversight on my part." Lex steered Craig back towards the ballroom's entrance. "Her invitation wasn't part of the regular stock."

"Oh, thank God." Craig's relief was apparent. "I was not looking forward to telling Lacey there was a problem with the stationery suppliers!"

With that, Craig seemed reassured and hustled off to attend to the hundred small details of a function like this–things Lex preferred to pay other people to take care of. He sipped his champagne and glanced around the room looking for the tell-tale shine of opals.


Clark's white shirt was just beginning to dry after his dousing with the bottle of soda. The mustard stain was still visible and Clark decided he was just going to have to send this one to the cleaner's after the party. It wouldn't be the first time.

He had managed to extricate himself from the overly helpful group of women only to find himself set upon by a ranting Lois spouting off about some little trollop from Oliver's past.

"Lois!" Clark tried to get her to listen. "Do you know who she is? Does Oliver know her?"

"Oh, he knows her alright." Lois glared in the direction of the punch bowl where Clark could see Oliver give a friendly wave. He waved back. "She went to the girls school just down the hill from Excelsior, apparently. Ha! I'll bet the path between those two schools was a well-worn road."

"You think–" Clark blushed. He didn't remember Lex mentioning a girls' school, but then again, Lex often didn't mention things until they came up. Unfortunately, they usually came up when someone was trying to kill him and then Lex was forced to explain about a former psycho girlfriend with an axe collection, or a disgruntled computer genius with all the pass codes to the mansion. Clark sighed. He really wished they could have these discussions before the crazies showed up at their home. He sometimes wondered how normal people communicated about these things, or if they just waited until the meteor-infected romantically-obsessed pyromaniacs kicked in their door too.

"Clark." Lois snapped her fingers in front of his face. "Earth to Clark."

"Yes, Lois." Clark didn't mean for it to sound patronizing, but it obviously came out that way because Lois's mouth became a thin red line and she stood with her hands on her hips.

"I wouldn't be looking too confident if I were you, Smallville. Lex isn't exactly known for his chaste and virtuous youth."

Clark paled and Lois flushed red. Oliver arrived at that moment, a glass of punch in each hand, and said, "Hey, Clark. Great party."

Lois looked genuinely apologetic as she laid a hand on Clark's arm. "Not that I think–I mean, I'm sure he and Nuala didn't–"

"I have to go talk to Lex," Clark said, shaking off Lois's hand.

"What was that about?" he could hear Oliver saying behind him. There was the sound of something wet, like a drink splashing against flesh, and then Oliver was sputtering, "What was that for?"

"Men!" Lois huffed in the background, and Clark's inside voice, which sounded remarkably like an aging Aretha Franklin, mentally added, "You tell him, sister!" Having temporarily lost sight of the opal thief, whose name was apparently Nuala, Clark made his way towards the corner where he'd last seen Bruce lurking. Maybe he could find some answers there.

As he threaded his way among the dancers and small knots of party-goers, Clark had to admit that even to him going to Bruce for answers seemed a little desperate, but he honestly wasn't ready to ask Lex what was going on. He wanted more information before he opened up Pandora's box. He had a feeling it was hiding much more than a stunning set of opals.


"So, just like a chicken, you say?" Nuala asked, skeptically. It's not that she doubted Blandine's experience in the matter, it just sounded a little too easy.

"Same principle, but as with anything it is best if the ... how do you say ... victim is unconscious at the time. A small voltage stun gun or tazer will do the job adequately."

Nuala shook her head admiringly. "Blandine, you're just full of useful information."

"Thank you. I was a librarian before I was recruited. Mine was the most silent library of them all," she said with a look of pride.

"I have no doubt." Nuala dabbed the crumbs from her lips with the edge of a linen handkerchief. "So when do you head back to France?"

"In a fortnight. I am returning by sheep," Blandine said, her accent getting noticeably heavier as the evening wore on.

"You mean by ship?"

"That is what I said," Blandine replied softly, her face slightly menacing in the shadows of the room.

"Of course." Nuala smiled graciously. "Well, it's been delightful talking to you, but I see someone I really must catch up with."

"Bon nuit," Blandine said as she watched Nuala head in the direction of the buffet table. From among the shadows, a dark figure followed her every movement with his dark gaze. When he caught Blandine watching him, he gave a collegial nod, which she returned.

"Very interesting," she said, and settled back to watch.


Nuala caught the movement to her left just as she reached the end of the buffet. "Bruce, so good to–"

She found herself with a hand over her mouth, being hustled onto the balcony and away from the crowded ballroom. She looked up into the stony face of Gotham's favorite son, Bruce Wayne, looking less than pleased to see her.

"Why, Bruce, I–"

"I should throw you off this balcony after what you pulled in Gotham." His eyes were as dark as the night.

"Oh, come on, you're still mad about that?"

His voice was steel. "You poisoned me."

"It was an accident! I was trying to poison Lex."

"That's supposed to make it all right?"

"Well, no, but honestly, Bruce, haven't there been times when we've all wanted to poison Lex? Seriously. You know it's true."

He scowled and gave a sort of low grunt that Nuala took for agreement. She slipped her arm through Bruce's and settled back against the stone railing. "Now tell me, how are things in Gotham? I hardly ever get up that way anymore."

"What with the arrest warrants and the shoot-on-sight directives."

"Must we always talk business? Really, there's more to life, you know. In fact, I know a lovely girl in Gotham. Black leather, acrobatic, always brings a whip to a gun fight. Just your sort. You do like cats, don't you? Let me give you her number..."


"Clark! Clark."

His progression through the crowded room was stopped by a pert young woman with a huge smile on her face and a crown of curly blonde hair piled high on her head.

"Obscura," Clark said, trying to catch where Bruce had disappeared to. He'd been there a moment ago, lurking behind the pillar beside the buffet table, and now he was gone. Clark glimpsed the movement of the balcony door closing.

"Oh, Clark, you're going to be thrilled. I haven't even had a chance to tell Lex, but I have to tell somebody!"

"What is it?" The usually outgoing head of Lex's publishing division was grinning from ear-to-ear.

"We got the contract to do the script for the Warrior Angel movie. It'll be filmed right here in Smallville!"

"That's terrific," Clark said with genuine happiness. He'd known it was something the publishing division had been campaigning for, but he'd had no idea it was close to being settled. "Lex is going to be over the moon about that."

"I know," Obscura agreed. "He's such a huge fan–well, we all are–but I know Lex will be thrilled." Having shared her good news, Obscura seemed to have lost some of the frenetic energy that had driven her across the room towards Clark. "I know I was just bursting to tell someone, but I'd like to tell Lex myself. Don't spoil the surprise, okay?"

"It'll be our secret. I promise," Clark said sincerely, and snagged two glasses of champagne off the passing tray. "To Warrior Angel," he said lifting his glass and handing her the other.

"To Warrior Angel." Obscura lifted her own glass and drank, her smile more effervescent than the champagne. Clark wished all of the secrets he and Lex were keeping were as innocent as this one, but he couldn't quite bring himself to believe it.


Lex surveyed the room from beside the entrance. Craig was masterfully directing traffic in and out, steering people towards the necessary facilities, and handling wraps and coats with a speed that Lex had previously only seen in sentient space-faring cephalopods. He hoped Private Tentacle found the Metropolis party alright. He knew it was simply an illusion caused by the curvature of the earth, but honestly, there were days when Metropolis seemed right around the corner and days when it seemed at least a three hour drive. It was odd.

He caught a glimpse of Clark talking with Obscura and wondered why his publishing head was practically bouncing up and down. No doubt he'd hear her news shortly. His cousin Blandine was expertly sabering open a bottle of champagne, much to the delight of the small group of admirers gathered around her, and his party planner, Lacey, was apparently filling in while the cellist was in the bathroom. As one of the Brandenburg Variations floated through the air, Lex had to admit she sounded like a pro–he hadn't known she knew how to play.

He wondered briefly why Oliver was wiping his face with a handkerchief, and why the front of his tux was the colour of the punch. Lois had dark rings around her eyes like a raccoon, and she glared at Lex menacingly as she strutted past. Lex took a step back and stayed out of the way. He could just make out a familiar dark shape on a corner of the balcony and what might have been a particular thief with a love of opals. Or it could've been the moon. He was too far away to tell for sure.


Clark burst onto the balcony, the cool night air a refreshing change from the ballroom inside. He saw Bruce leaning in the corner.

"Did you get her?"


"The thief!" Clark looked around as if Bruce might be hiding the woman somewhere on the very open balcony.

"Something's been stolen?"

"Yes. The opal necklace she was wearing. You had to have seen it! It's the same one that Lex was hiding in the ..." Clark cut himself off as Bruce raised an eyebrow.

"Hiding where, Clark?"

Suddenly the tables were turned, and Clark felt his face grow uncomfortably warm. "Um. He wasn't exactly hiding it. It was in the bedroom safe, our bedroom safe."

"But you didn't know about the necklace, correct?"

Clark leaned on the stone railing and looked down to the shrubbery two floors below. He shook his head. Bruce came to stand beside him.

"You know who she is?" Clark asked.

Bruce gave a non-committal grunt. "She's not exactly harmless, but I wouldn't consider her a threat either."

"Forgive me if I don't find that assessment entirely comforting, Bruce. She waltzed in here, stole a priceless opal necklace, and is walking around like she owns the place."

"Have you asked Lex about it?"

Clark shook his head. Of course, he hadn't. He was still afraid of what the answer might be. Lex was obviously playing some kind of game, and Clark didn't have any idea what was going on or what the rules were. He felt ... left out.

"Clark, you have to remember that Lex had a life before you met him. A rather complicated life."

"I get that. I just don't get why he's still playing games with old flames."

Bruce chuckled. "Old flames? Ironic when you consider she almost set him on fire once."


"It's a long story involving dorm rooms and illegal hot plates. Anyway, the point is, what he and Nuala had was pretty innocent considering Lex's history. I wouldn't worry about it, Clark. I really wouldn't."

Clark didn't want to feel reassured, but he did. Bruce wasn't the type of person to try to cushion the blow of cold hard truth, so if he said the relationship was nothing to worry about, it was probably true. Still, Clark couldn't shake the feeling that Lex was keeping secrets from him, even after all this time.

"Trust me, Clark. Just let it go. It'll all play out before the evening's done, and then, I'm sure, Lex will tell you whatever you want to know. Trust him."

There was a brief squeeze on his shoulder, and then Bruce was gone. Clark didn't even hear the balcony door open and close, but what he did hear was the faint scrape of a window opening somewhere up above. Without a second's hesitation, he turned and ran back into the ballroom, took the nearest exit, and headed for the bedroom.

When Clark pushed open the bedroom door the last thing he expected to see was the naked back of a beautiful woman.

"Uh!" He immediately turned around. "I'm sorry. I didn't know–" He could hear the shifting of fabric behind him.

"Really, haven't you learned to knock? Were you raised in a barn?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't know anyone was– " Clark stopped. "Hey, this is my bedroom. Why am I apologizing to you?"

"Are you Canadian?" the woman asked with a smirk in her voice. "You can turn around now."

Clark did and he could see Nuala was fully-clothed in a skintight set of black overalls, the opal necklace still visible at her throat.

"That doesn't belong to you."

"It doesn't belong to you either, and I doubt very much that Lex would want this little incident reported to the authorities."

Clark froze and thought that through. "Are you suggesting–?"

"A billionaire doesn't change his Armani, kid. I'm sure you believe Lex is totally on the up and up, but I think I know otherwise. I have it on good authority these are ill-gotten goods, although as blackmail money goes, they're lovely."

"No, you're wrong." Clark knew that Lex could walk the moral edge when pushed, but he refused to believe that Lex would be involved in something illegal..

"Look at it this way. I'm just getting rid of the evidence for you."

"You're a regular saint," Clark said sarcastically.

"Well, I wouldn't go that far."

As they'd been talking, Nuala had edged closer to the open window. With one graceful movement reminiscent of a panther, she was onto the sill and through the window. Clark let out a startled gasp, and she leaned back in with a smile.

"Do give my very best to, Lex." She blew Clark a kiss and disappeared into the night leaving Clark standing there with his mouth open in astonishment.

"She's quite something, isn't she?" Clark turned to see Lex leaning in the doorway.

"She's a thief, Lex!"

"And a very good one."

"Lex, she stole that necklace. How can you just–"

"She's an old friend." Lex walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. Clark figured it was for the best since this was likely to be one of those conversations and they didn't need three hundred guests hearing them argue.

"An old friend? Right. And by ‘friend,' you mean ‘lover,' of course."

Lex laughed and shook his head. "We were pretty young. I don't think the term really applies, but on the bright side, she's one of the few who's never tried to kill me. Well, there was that once, but I don't think she was serious."

Clark crossed his arms over his chest. He refused to let this go so easily. "So she was part of the illustrious diamond earring club?"

"No, Nuala was before all that frivolity. Actually, I think she was kind of pissed off about the lack of diamond earrings."

"Well, she seems to be making up for it with opals." Clark couldn't hide the anger in his voice.

Lex just grinned and looked towards the window. "Yes, she does, doesn't she?"

"Lex, why would you ... she said you were ..." Clark through up his hands in frustration. "I don't know what to think anymore."

Lex stepped forward, looking serious, and laid a hand on Clark's arm. "I was going to tell you about this. Honestly, but I wasn't sure if anything was going to happen. The necklace only arrived from Metropolis when the party planners got here. You can check with Lacey, if you want."

"You mean it's not some kind of blood money payoff?"

Lex laughed. "No, Clark. I swear I paid retail, just like everybody else. I've even got the receipt."

Clark's brow furrowed in confusion. "Then what was this all about? And she still stole the necklace from you."

"It's a bit of a long story, Clark. Why don't we go back to the party and I'll tell you all about it."

He reached for Clark's hand and pulled him into a gentle hug. Clark slid his arms around Lex and let out a breath. Like Bruce said, he was apparently going to have to trust Lex on this one.


The party was still going strong when Lex slipped onto the rooftop of the mansion. He made a direct line for the slim dark figure standing at the edge.

"I wasn't sure if you'd be sticking around," he said.

"I'm waiting for my ride," Nuala replied.

"Well, I'll keep you company while you wait."

There was a pause where the only sound was the honk of a lone Canadian goose flying overhead.

"Your ride?"

"Ha, ha. Seriously, Lex, what are you doing up here? If you want me to give back–"

"No, you stole them fair and square. I just came to see if you had a good time."

"I always do." In the cool night air, Nuala shivered. Lex slipped off his tuxedo jacket and slipped it around her shoulders. "Opals are my favourite, you know."

"I know."

"And it just happens to be my birthday today."

Lex tried to look surprised. "Really? I'll have to mark that in my PDA for future reference. Twenty-nine, right?"

"From here on out," she said with a sigh, edging a little closer so that she and Lex's sides were pressed against one another.

"Well, you still look beautiful. Certainly enough to make Clark more than a little crazy for a few hours."

Nuala smiled. "He's rather beautiful himself. You've got good taste, Lex."

"I'll be sure to let Clark know you approve."

Nuala leaned her head lightly on Lex's shoulder. "It was a great evening. It was good to be back, to see old friends."

"I'm glad you had fun."

"And I know about the opals, Lex. Lightning Boy isn't nearly as good an actor as he likes to think."

"I don't know what you mean, Nu."

Nuala smiled. "Okay. If that's the way you want to play it."

"Besides," Lex said. "You like me better when you think I'm still a bit of a scoundrel. Admit it."

"It's true. The straight-and-narrow path isn't nearly as interesting."

"Isn't nearly as straight either," Lex said with a chuckle and slipped an arm around Nuala's waist just as something in her purse started beeping. She hurriedly slipped out of Lex's jacket and handed it back to him, planting a kiss on his cheek.

"That's my ride," she said as she withdrew something from her purse. It was a small flare gun and when she pressed a button on the side, a suction cup-like appendage expanded at the end of the barrel. She turned and shot into the air just as a dark shape passed over head. Lex heard the suction cup attach and watched as Nuala neatly fastened the grapples cord to a harness overtop of her jumpsuit.

"Thanks, Lex. It really was a wonderful birthday, but I've got to go. Gotham awaits."

Lex shook his head. "If that thing scratches the paint on the Bat-Plane, he's going to kill you, you know?"

"I know," Nuala said as she began to lift up into the air. "But what's life without a little danger! Bye, Lex!"

"Bye!" he called as she disappeared into the night.

"She gone?" Clark asked, stepping from the shadows.

"She's gone."

"If she scratches the paint on that thing, Bruce is going to–"

"Yes, he is." Lex slipped his jacket back on and reached for Clark's warm hand. "Let's say we get back to the party. I hear we've got a few things to celebrate."

Clark closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around Lex. "Let's say we give the party a miss and celebrate on our own." He leaned in and kissed Lex deeply. In the sky behind them, the moon glinted against the night, a perfect opal nestled in a black velvet box.


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